Postcards from Dungeon Siege III’s narrow path

, | Games

Since pictures are worth a few dozen of my most excellent words, I thought I’d illustrate my impressions of the Dungeon Siege III demo with some views from…whatever that country is called. As you might be able to tell, the lore in the demo didn’t make a huge impression on me. And the previous 2 games are fairly hazy in my memory.

After the jump, Wendelius’ Dungeon Siege demo travelogue begins

A word of warning for PC players allergic to gamepads: I played the demo with my 360 gamepad, which proved quite natural for this type of game. That’s why all the prompts on the screen relate to buttons and triggers. You can, of course, play it with mouse and keyboard.

Anyhoo, the demo starts by offering you a choice between 2 characters. A tank who can use sword and board or double wield, or a cute spear girl. I went for the girl.

Here she is in her shiny yet light armour. She only wears a vambrace on her left arm, leaving the right one free to swing the spear into groups of enemies.

When she is not outnumbered, however, she can also turn into a fire spirit.

The fire spirit’s attacks are more powerful but fairly useless against a group. The spirit can invoke a short lived pet. She obviously also feels less concerned about matters of fashion than her human alter ego.

Switching from one to the other is just a button press away and can be done at any time. So you can start a fight summoning your pet and throwing fireballs, then switch to human form when the enemy closes in.

But before you are trusted with fighting ennemies, the game has to teach you a few other advanced concepts. Like how to break barrels and open chests to make treasure rain around you.

Start to Crate in this game is about 2 minutes. But once it starts, it doesn’t stop. Even when you are supposed to be running to a bridge to detonate it, the game will patiently wait for you to break a few barrels and investigate hidden chests.

As always, it’s very satisfying and more-ish to find rare loot in a chest or barrel. The inventory system has the good grace of not (as far as I could tell in the demo) be space or weight limited. The looting process could be better though. When coins rain around you and loot falls, you have to physically step over the coins to pick them up and press a button to pick up any objects lying on the floor. There is no “loot everything around me” functionality that I could find. After the 20th crate and 50th enemy, it gets a bit old.

That being said, the inventory is clearly laid out and shows the tabs where new loot can be found. It filters out items you can’t wear and shows them on the inventory screen of other players in the party. It also makes it quite easy to compare stats on items…

Whereas the inventory is clear, combat is confusing. I ended up mashing buttons quite a bit. Between being fast paced, the default attack being limited in usefulness, having to gather energy for any special attacks (the blue bar), and having to press another button along with the special attack key to trigger an empowered version of the skill (only possible when the little golden sphere at the bottom right of my portrait is full), it was a bit much for my aging brain.

As you get through combat, you level up. And when you level up, you get to work through another brain teaser. For each level you earn, you get to spend no less than 3 different types of points. First, you have to pick up Abilities. These are your special moves, the ability to summon a pet and so on.

Then, you have to spend point on improving those Abilities with Proficiencies. As shown below, each ability can be improved up to 5 times in total in one of 2 ways. One might be more defensive and another more offensive. One might stun and the other cause a DoT. Either choice fills up the Proficiency bar for the Ability.

Finally, you also have to spend yet another type of skill points on Talents, which are more general character skills.

As you play tourist, you can engage some of the NPC’s in conversation. The conversation trees are handled in a familiar way.

Quite often, what you say doesn’t seem to matter. The game is, after all, very linear. So whether you want to take a key for a dungeon or not, you are supposed to go there and it will be shoved into your hand. In that respect, it’s not quite clear how useful the relatively ponderous system is. On the other hand, one of my conversation choices resulted in the next reply mentioning I had gained influence with the character. So maybe there are points where what you say will have an impact.

Finally, I must mention the look of the game. It’s very much Dungeon Siege. Full of narrow paths and distant sights you’ll never get to travel any closer to. It looks quite nice on occasion. Its main downfall is that neither of the 2 camera zoom levels you can choose between are very satisfying. And your ability to change the camera angle is fairly limited too. It all results in an experience where it’s actually a bit of work seeing as much of the landscape as you’d like to.

Speaking of unreachable far away places, this happens closer to home as well. There is no jumping. A pebble will stop you or even a nice set of stairs you are not meant to climb. This is me running in place:

This is a good way to annoy me and break the immersion. But I guess it’s a “feature”.

All in all though, the demo should give you a couple of hours of gameplay and the stance system (spear girl -> fire spirit, one handed -> two handed for the tank, I believe) makes for entertaining, if often confusing combat.

Worth a try then. Just don’t expect anything more than what it aims to be.